Bahraini prince could face UK arrest over torture allegations | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 08.10.2014
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Bahraini prince could face UK arrest over torture allegations

Britain's High Court has stripped Bahrain's Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa of immunity from prosecution over allegations of torture. DW asks how the ruling will affect cozy relations between London and Manama.

Human rights defenders are holding it up as an auspicious moment in the story of the contemporary Bahrain. It was the moment the High Court in London ruled Prince Nasser Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa would no longer enjoy the luxury of immunity from prosecution over his alleged role in the torture of political prisoners on his native Gulf island.

The decision followed a two year legal battle initiated by a Bahraini torture survivor - known as FF - to overturn a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) order protecting the prince from the threat of legal proceedings in the United Kingdom. It not only paves the way for his potential arrest and prosecution, but also, activists have said, sends a signal to the ruling family.

"In Bahrain we have a culture of impunity," Said Yousif Almuhafdah, vice president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) told DW."We do not have an independent judiciary, so this is a clear message to all human rights violators in Bahrain that they cannot get away with their actions."

Manama says "no evidence"

Protests with teargas

The Bahraini government does not tolerate protests and uses teargas to keep dissent at bay

In a statement, FF, said now that the prince had lost his immunity he would need to "consider the risk of investigation, arrest and prosecution when he is traveling outside Bahrain."

But the Bahraini government in Manama responded to Tuesday's ruling by dismissing the case as "an ill-targeted, politically-motivated and opportunistic attempt to misuse the British legal system."

In a press release, it stated its "firm condemnation of torture" and stressed that the High Court order would "not open the door to a prosecution" as there was "no evidence for the allegations."

Next legal steps

Sue Willman, FF's lawyer with Deighton Pierce Glynn, told DW, however, that the ruling does in fact open the door to potential prosecution. And she was clear on where the case could go from here.

"The next step is to contact the Metropolitan Police to seek a meeting, and to send them a file of up-to-date evidence and ask them to open an investigation."

Willman said even if the police were to decide they did not have enough evidence to push ahead, they could refer it to the Home Secretary and request that Prince Nasser no longer be granted entry to the UK.

Almuhafdah of the BCHR would welcome that, and said he believes the prince is now going to be very wary of trying to re-enter the country to which he has long been a frequent visitor, and where his three children were born.

"We don't want the UK or any Western countries to receive human rights violators," the activist said. "We want them to be banned."

Bilateral relations

Demonstration in Bahrain

Demonstrations in 2011 were crushed with the help of Saudi forces

Even if that were to happen, Jane Kinninmont, deputy head and senior research fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House in London, said she doubts the case has the power to shake the deep foundations that form the basis of ties between London and Manama.

"Britain is Bahrain's oldest international ally, and although relations were rocked by the 2011 uprising, they have been repaired more quickly than Bahrain has managed to repair its own political problems," she told DW.

Even at a time when allegations of torture are rife, and 3,500 prisoners of conscience are locked up in the country's jails, Kinninmont says the British government has preemptively welcomed promises of reform in Bahrain and has become the country's best friend outside the Gulf region.

One size should fit all

It is this double standards attitude that Almuhafdah is at pains to highlight.

He said the UK should apply the same standards to everyone, not turn a blind eye to the way their allies behave.

"The UK is committed to justice, democracy and freedom in the international community," he said. "Bahrain is part of the international community, so we want the UK to implement its commitment there."

British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking at the Houses of Parliament

What effect the ruling will have on Bahrain-UK relations remains to be seen

But Kinninmont said London's policy on Bahrain is driven by economic and security interests, and that while human rights issues create some restrictions in terms of the extent of co-operation, they do not determine who Britain allies with.

"Policy makers would argue that there are people in Bahrain seeking reform and that they need to be praised or they won't do anymore," she said.

Kinninmont referred to that cyclical approach as "all carrot and no stick," adding that overall the reform process is a case of "one step forward, two steps back."

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